On the 17th August 2015, Abdul Haroun, a Sudanese refugee, walked the 31-mile Channel tunnel to Britain with a hope of reaching safety in the UK. Artist and artist film maker Alia Syed read the news reports of Abdul Haroun walking through the Channel Tunnel and was astonished that somebody could survive walking through the tunnel. Inspired by Mr Haroun’s case, Alia Syed filmed herself crossing the London Rotherhithe tunnel by foot.
Her film ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ is shot using two Go Pro video cameras attached to her body. It was shown last year at the Open University in Milton Keynes in the SRA Citizenship & Governance Justice, Borders and Rights research group event as well as in the Tate Modern Museum during the event ‘Who Are We?’, in the context of the Open University’s involvement in the Tate Exchange programme.
Reflecting on her film, Alia says:
“My hope is that the film allows you to recognise something that goes beyond the idea of the victimhood of the person. When I first heard about Haroun's story, the first thing I thought was people swim the channel and they are rewarded for that, they get a gold medal, or you can raise money for refugees doing that, and this man walks through the Channel Tunnel and is arrested. So there is this reversal in how different people are allowed or not allowed to travel geographies, land, boundaries, and these boundaries are there for some and not for others.”
The view offered is the “imprint" of Syed’s body’s movement through the tunnel creating a sensation akin to “vection: locomotion caused by visual perception alone.” (The Philosophy of Computer Games). A soundscape created solely from the reverberations within the tunnel is interspersed with a voice over of extracts of ‘A View From Dover’ written and read by David Herd. This simple gesture towards Haroun’s journey ends with a rendition of the Malicious Damages Act 1861, showing the beginning of another journey, this time through the English judicial system.
“What has been the most challenging is understanding how the individual is subject to the law, which is something that I had no comprehension of to begin with, and maybe have a very minuscule comprehension of now. I decided that I was going to follow his journey through the law courts. This was really interesting but also physically and practically very difficult, because you didn’t know when his hearing was going to happen. I couldn’t speak to his lawyers because the lawyers want to protect their client, so information wasn’t readily available. The court was in Canterbury and I live in South London; on a number of occasions I turned up and the hearing had been cancelled.
[…] Quite often I was asking myself why I was going to all of these hearings anyway, when I wasn’t clear in my own mind how this was going to feed into the film - I constantly had these elements of doubt – was I just a spectator, or worse, a voyeur? The question was ‘Where do I sit in all of this and what am I doing?’”
Read the full conversation On a Wing and a Prayer: A Case Study, between artist Alia Syed, and OU academics Dr Olga Jurasz, Senior Lecturer in Law, Dr Umut Erel, Senior Lecturer in FASS and Dr Sara de Jong, Research Fellow, Citizenship and Governance and Co-lead, Justice, Borders and Rights stream. The conversation has been recorded in the context of the preparation of a week of events that took place in March 2017 at the Tate Modern museum in London as part of the Tate Exchange programme. It is also part of The Open University’s OpenLearn material.
Read here Alia, Umut and Sara’s reflections on art and ethics in ‘Stealing stories for art: migration, voyeurism and the appropriation of injustice’ in openDemocracy feature ‘Who are We’ in a Moving World?’.
From 22-27 May 2018, The Open University will come back to the Tate Modern museum for a week of artist-academic collaborative events, together with consortium partners Counterpoints Arts, Loughborough University, and Stance Podcast in partnership with the University of York Migration Network.